Settling In: A peek into midlife change and new beginnings

My day job is heading up an anti-racism organization, I write about race and I exist in a body that is called Black. Racism isn’t an intellectual activity for me; it is a lived reality that lurks on every corner once I step outside my door. If I don’t want to think about race and possibly racism, my only recourse is to not leave my house. And trust me, there are days when I am not strong enough…days when I know that if I encounter racial ignorance or outright bigotry that it might break me or cause me to break someone else. On those days, I simply don’t leave the house.

Yet my life is more than race and racism. It is also joy and it is sorrow and, right now, it’s so much change that I often feel like Neo in “The Matrix” as I contort myself to dodge the barrage of emotional and logistical ammunition that is headed in my direction. Last night, I found myself on a three-plus hour call catching up with one of my sisters in storytelling. As I shared what’s really been going on in my life, she asked me, “Why aren’t you writing these stories?” I realized over the course of that call that while writing about racism and oppression is often what brings people to this site, I am a writer who needs to write and that also means telling the stories that contribute to my own humanity and help define and frame it. So today I share a peek into my life at midlife as I navigate what increasingly feels like a brave new world.

I have spent the majority of my adult life being a wife and a mother. I have grown into adulthood while navigating rearing children and being a partner. Even attending college and later graduate school was done while juggling kids, partner, an ailing mother and later grieving the loss of that mother. It’s meant that I have spent very little time actually living on my own. It’s also meant that navigating life in my 40s after the collapse of my almost 20-year marriage at times feels like a comedy routine or a tragedy depending on the day.

I have no regrets about my marriage coming to an end, my now co-parent (rather than husband or even “husbfriend” as I was calling him for a while) remains my closest friend and trusted confidante. Our romantic journey together came to the end of its natural lifecycle and I think that as a society that is hung up on romance and fairytale endings, we rarely provide the space to admit that things end. Not all endings must be nasty and contentious nor must they be emotional affairs that gut us, but endings are change and change even when we need it and welcome it can be a sticky affair.

For me, navigating the reality of not living with another adult is what has been the unexpected thing. Realizing that logic models come far easier to me than remembering what day the trash pick-up is…hell, trying to figure out what size garbage bags to buy nearly sent me into a panic as I stood trying to explain to the clerk that I haven’t bought garbage bags myself in damn near 20 years.

After years of serving as a de-facto short order cook to a family that includes a staunch vegetarian, one meat-only kid, and one eat-anything adult, I realize that I have no idea how to cook in small portions but surprisingly I am learning that left to my own devices, I actually don’t like cooking (other than baking which, according to my waistline, I should do very little of).  I especially don’t like cooking now that I have to cook and wash the dishes after years of having a live-in dishwasher.

Yet the biggest adjustment to me is how I interact with the world and how it interacts with me as a middle-aged woman sans a life partner. Leaving a partner is not just leaving a partner but it’s also leaving a way of life. It’s leaving the land of twos and navigating as a one, it’s realizing that friends and acquaintances often feel worse than you do and just when you need them, they are nowhere to be found. It was waking up alone on my 43rd birthday and feeling adrift and then having to cancel my plans because almost everyone canceled on me yet feeling grateful for the friend who did show up.

Hands down, the feeling of being alone has been the hardest to navigate especially because 20-plus years ago, friendships and connections were not merely a series of Facebook status updates with carefully curated snapshots of the chipper side of our lives. In midlife, our schedules are full and we are stretched and creating time for friends is not always a priority when we are juggling jobs, partners, aging parents and our kids’ schedules which are often as full as our own.  There is also the reality that midlife breakups are different than earlier splits. Midlife is already a time for reflection and sometimes correction. When you have spent a deacde or two or more with another human being and you leave, whether it’s contentious or amicable, it’s a shift in your personal world and adds roadblocks and course corrections into a life already increasingly filled with them.

So, I am working to settle into being alone. I am also trying to wrap my head around being a woman who still has needs *ahem* and how the heck does one get such needs met in a Tinder kind of world? That’s a book waiting to be written and definitely not for this space!  I am working to have greater compassion when people don’t show up when I need them and making more space for the unexpected people who have shown up for the much-needed call, drink and space-holding session. The past several months have knocked me on my ass as I have juggled so many balls that eventually they started falling and smacking me in my face. Still I have also found my safe space; turns out that island living, though logistically a nightmare at times (Island in Maine to Boston days are a blast and a half!), is what I needed. So yeah, I am doing good, been through the desert on a horse with no name and it felt good to be out of the rain.
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